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Story: Te Tau, Taiāwhio Tikawenga

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Te Tau, Taiāwhio Tikawenga

1860–1939

Ngāi Tūmapuhiārangi; farmer, horse breeder, religious leader, local politician

This biography, written by S. M. Chrisp, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1996. It was translated into te reo Māori by the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography team.

Taiāwhio Tikawenga Te Tau was a leader of the major Māori political and religious movements in Wairarapa in the 15 years following 1910. He was the younger son of Kaipāoe, a high-ranking woman of Ngāti Rākairangi, and her husband, Tikawenga Te Tau, a leading chief of Ngāi Tūmapuhiārangi. In 1860 Tikawenga initiated a major peace expedition to the trouble spots of Taranaki, Waikato and Hawke's Bay. Taiāwhio was born at Tūranganui (near Pirinoa) in the same year, on 16 February, and was named for the expedition.

Taiāwhio and his elder brother Pūhara appear to have been raised at Pāpāwai, where Taiāwhio attended school. He also received an extensive education in the traditions and genealogies of his hapū, and in later life he was a member of the Tāne-nui-a-rangi committee, which was charged with recording Wairarapa whakapapa and history.

Probably in 1878 Taiāwhio married Mākere Kīngi of Ngāti Muretū, a hapū of the Greytown district. The couple had 11 children before Mākere died on 27 August 1893. Only one child, Wiremu Kīngi Te Tau, reached adulthood and had issue. On 4 April 1894 at Puketeraki, north of Dunedin, Taiāwhio married Pani Parata of Ngāi Tahu. She was a licensed interpreter and a talented pianist, later well known at Wairarapa social events. The couple had three children: a son, Richard John Seddon, and two daughters, Hera Merehana and Mary Stuart Victoria (also known as Kuini Wikitōria).

Taiāwhio Te Tau was a confirmed admirer of the British royal family. He probably inherited this from Tikawenga, who had been presented to the duke of Edinburgh in 1867. In 1897 he travelled to London to take part in Queen Victoria's diamond jubilee. While in London he made a number of gifts to the royal family and received a commemorative medal.

A wealthy man at this time, Taiāwhio had interests in a number of Wairarapa land blocks, and farmed an extensive area of family land at Kaumoana, near Masterton. He also owned and operated a horse stud, and bred a number of successful gallopers and trotters; although in 1908 he was suspended from racing for six months for 'cronk-running'. Taiāwhio and his family lived in a large two-storeyed house at Kaumoana. A number of the prized possessions of Ngāi Tūmapuhiārangi were stored in the house.

In 1901 Taiāwhio became interested in Te Hāhi o te Rūri Tuawhitu o Ihowa (also called the Church of the Seven Rules of Jehovah), which originally developed in Marlborough. Within a short period he became heavily involved in its activities as it took root within Wairarapa Māori society. As one of the proprietors of the Māori newspaper Matuhi, Taiāwhio appears to have played a major role in the development of the church's theological tenets and in promoting its cause. He bought a printing press for the paper, and installed his wife as editor. The paper was published regularly between 1903 and 1906.

The church's teachings were based on the multitude of uses of the number seven in the Bible, and on a belief in the Kingdom of God being brought about in a series of stages. Its dogma included the divine descent – in seven stages – of the English and Māori Kings. Later, a descent line of Māori prophetic authority was added. This carried a Wairarapa bias and featured Pāora Te Pōtangaroa and H. P. Tūnuiārangi, Taiāwhio's half-brother. Taiāwhio was a keen student of the prophecies of Te Pōtangaroa, and he subsequently linked the church's origin and development to him.

In 1910 Taiāwhio was elected to the office of district bishop within the Church of the Seven Rules of Jehovah. Later that year he was created the principal bishop of the whole church, retaining this position until 1925. He regularly led the church in large gatherings to celebrate Christmas and other important events, such as the coronation of King George V in 1911 and the opening of Nukutaimemeha meeting house in 1918. Taiāwhio also helped to co-ordinate a large meeting at Te Ore Ore, near Masterton, to analyse Pāora Te Pōtangaroa's prophecies. In 1921 he arranged the erection of a memorial in Masterton Park (Queen Elizabeth Park) to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Te Pōtangaroa's utterance of his main prophecies.

Taiāwhio was a member of the Liberal and Labour Federation of New Zealand, and he became the leader of its Māori section in 1903. In 1905 he was appointed a health inspector for the Māori Council District of Rongokako. In this capacity he reported to Parliament on the state of Māori housing, and also published details of all Wairarapa Māori households.

He was elected to the council itself in 1905 as the representative of the Masterton Māori community. In 1908 he became the chairman of the council, a position he would retain until the late 1920s. The Rongokako Māori Council was composed of representatives from every Māori community and commanded the allegiance of the majority of Māori in the district. Its elections were extensively reported in Wairarapa Māori newspapers. Taiāwhio was a strict taskmaster and used his position to promote health and hygiene issues, and to stress the need for the maintenance of Māori customs. He also attended a number of national conferences on Māori affairs on behalf of the council.

The Rongokako Māori Council was closely linked to the Church of the Seven Rules of Jehovah; Taiāwhio described the two institutions as the two legs of the Māori people. They shared a philosophy of Māori self-determination and provided a vehicle to achieve that goal. The council and the church were at their peak in the period between 1910 and 1920, and Taiāwhio commanded tremendous respect and influence among his constituents.

Enthusiasm for the Māori councils ebbed in the early 1920s, the decline coinciding with the spectacular rise of a new religious and political leader, T. W. Rātana. His prophetic and healing powers attracted many members of the Church of the Seven Rules of Jehovah, including Taiāwhio, who was one of the first to sign the Rātana church covenant in 1925. He later moved to Rātana pa with members of his church. The departure of the principal bishop and so many members meant that the Church of the Seven Rules of Jehovah was virtually absorbed by the Rātana church.

At Rātana pā Taiāwhio introduced the teachings of Pāora Te Pōtangaroa. As a result, Te Pōtangaroa was acknowledged by Rātana's followers as part of the succession of Māori prophetic and spiritual leaders beginning with Tāwhiao Te Wherowhero and Te Ua Haumēne and including Te Whiti, Tohu and Rātana himself.

Taiāwhio was an apostle of the Rātana church in 1926 and 1927, but then disappeared from public life, at least in Wairarapa. He had spent some time in the South Island in order to allow Pani to be with her own people, but had returned alone as she could not bear to leave her family. In the latter part of his life, through injudicious land sales and mortgages to sustain his way of life, Taiāwhio lost his personal wealth. He was dependent on the old-age pension, and lived in a 'small miserable room' with no personal effects.

Pani Te Tau went to Rātana pā in 1939 and found Taiāwhio in poor health. She brought him back to Masterton Hospital, where he died on 4 June 1939. Taiāwhio lay in state, and was buried at Te Ore Ore marae, where 25 years previously he had been such a dominant figure. He was survived by Pani and their three children.

How to cite this page:

S. M. Chrisp. 'Te Tau, Taiāwhio Tikawenga', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1996. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/3t21/te-tau-taiawhio-tikawenga (accessed 27 October 2021)